Origins and History of Kuntao Matjan

Roots and Precedents

Kuntao Matjan is a hybrid art, essentially a highly Indonesianised version of Southern Chinese Tiger Boxing. Unfortunately its founding figure, Paatje Carel Faulhaber (1923-1974) passed away unexpectedly aged 50 before he was able to pass on a comprehensive narrative about his art's evolution.

From the available evidence, it is apparent that Kuntao Matjan began to take shape in the 1930s Semarang with the young Dutch-Indonesian or 'Indo' and future master or 'Paatje' (lit. 'uncle') Faulhaber studying Fujian Tiger-Style kung-fu with the famous, one-eyed Chinese master Liem Tjoei Kang. At the time Liem taught mainly the souther tiger and crane styles of kung-fu although later in his life he would eventually concentrate on Five Ancestors (Ngo Cho Kun). Semarang boasts the largest and longest-established ethnic Chinese community in Indonesia. Consequently, Faulhaber, like many natives of the city, was reportedly highly fluent in Fujian dialect as well as Dutch and 'market Malay'. He was, therefore, able to train and socialise with Liem and his students in Chinese.

There are also reports of him spending time in then Batavia (Jakarta) at the same time as other leading Indo martial artist of his generation Willem Reeders and Johan de Vries, both of whom trained (most probably in Fujian Crane) with Liu Seong and so Faulhaber too may have had some access to Liu's teaching.

In later years, Paatje Faulhaber also studied silat and pukulan, although the details here are sketchier. By one account he learned from a dukun or traditional healer and spiritualist while still in Java. According to this story the dukun taught Faulhaber for several years in forest clearing near the local kampong or village before declaring Paatje Faulhaber had completed his training and sent him on his way. It is also worth noting that Faulhaber lived for several years in southern Sumatra where he met his Indonesian wife Hartati binti Abderrahman. He would then likely have had potential access to the local silat community through his in-laws.

Given the intervening decades, the weak interaction between Dutch colonial officialdom and the 'inlander' Indonesian populace it is sadly profoundly unlikely that it will be possible get significantly closer the the silat influences on Paatje Faulhaber's art. What can be said is that it employs a wide range of side kicks, front and reverse sickle kicks and thrust back kicks, ground tactics and light, agile footwork typical of both Central Java and Minang arts. Also, the traditional weapons taught are exclusively Indonesian.

After internment by occupying Japanese forces and post-war liberation, Paatje Faulhaber emigrated to Holland in 1953. There, towards the end of the decade, he began teaching his art to a small group of younger Indos. Subsequently known as 'the ring of five', this select group included his eldest son Robert Faulhaber, Dutch air force pilot Theo Verschuur, Max 'Jimmy' Bax, Edouard Lammerts van Bueren and Richard Kudding.

During the mid-1960s Paatje Faulhaber and his students came under pressure to conduct instruction of the art under the national regulatory framework of the Dutch Judokwai. Dominated as it was by Japanese arts and models of practice the Judokwai inevitably imposed a steady process of Japanisation on the teaching of the art. Japanese terms were adopted for techniques in grading manuals and in linguistic and translation error the Fujianhwa generic 'kuntao' (most readily glossed as 'way' or 'philosophy' of the fist) was taken as the same term as the Putonghwa (Mandarain) generic 'chuan fa' ('rule' or 'doctrine' of the fist) even though 'tao' and 'fa' take different idiograms with different meanings. It was during this transitional phase circa 1967 that Dutch Kempo emerged with teaching largely focused on a school called The Flying Dragon Institute.

By all accounts, Paatje Faulhaber insisted on remaining aloof from the Judokwai relationship, refusing to issue grades according to Judokwai standards and conventions, and limiting his formal status in the Judokwai Kempo Section to that of 'technical adviser'.

It is generally agreed by members of Faulhaber's own family and other members of the original Ring of Five that Richard Kudding was Faulhaber's closest student during this period. Paatje Kudding had been born in Tanggerang, near Jakarta, in 1938. After moving to Makassar with his family after the Second World War he studies Bugis Harimacan (tiger) silat under Nono Malonda and kuntao under Wong Hong Leong. He thus came to Paatje Faulhaber's art in terms of his own combined silat and kuntao experience.

Paatje Kudding sought to navigate a middle course between Judokwai compliance, serving as Kempo Section secretary, and intensive, private study under Paatje Faulhaber. Paatje Kudding also studied with Paris-based Viet Chinese master Hoang Nam who had strong links with the Judokwai and issued Paatje Richard his Judokwai-recognised black sash and teaching qualification. In 1969, however, and after a decade studying with Paatje Faulhaber, Paatje Kudding elected to immigrate to Canada for career reasons.

In the meantime, the Ring of Five continued to train. In 1972, however Lammerts van Bueren discontinued kuntao training to return to his original art of Silat Serak, studying under Paul de Thouars. In 1973, Paatje Faulhaber fell unexpectedly ill and passed away in 1974 after a brief, severe illness aged only 50 and before ever passing on a detailed oral history of his system to his students. Without their teacher, the remaining Ring members scattered. Theo Verschuur moved to the Setia Hati of Hardjono 'Cor' Turpijn and jujutsu before passing away from cancer in 1981. Robert Faulhaber concentrated on an increasingly Kyokushinkai Karate-influenced version of Dutch Kempo, and Max Bax studied the de Vries lineage of Serak before establishing his own school of Yin & Yang Kempo.

In Canada, Paatje Kudding fell out of regular contact with the other ring members, especially after Paatje Faulhaber passed away. Settling in Winnipeg he quickly became one of the most highly regarded teachers in the province of Manitoba. He encountered, however, a difficulty teaching Paatje Faulhaber's art because the Indo-Malay martial arts - silat, pukulan, kuntao - were largely unknown in the English speaking world. Because of the art's roots in Southern Tiger Boxing and the fact that Paatje Kudding also taught Hoan Nam's material selectively, from the early-middle 1970s the system was publicly presented as a form of kung-fu under the Judokwai-era identity of the Flying Dragon Institute.

In 1987 Paatje Kudding was contacted by former student Harry de Spa (d.1997) who was engaged in trying to compile a rigorous history of Dutch Kempo. At this point Paatje Richard learned in detail what had become of Paatje Faulhaber and the rest of the Ring of Five. After an interval of reflection elected to focus his efforts on teaching and preserving the version of Paatje Faulhaber's kuntao that he had learned in the 1960s. He also elected to teach Kuntao Matjan as an explicitly Indonesian art, drawing also on silat Bugis and kuntao experience during his youth in Makassar to do so.

In 1999 discussions with the International Pencak Silat Federation (Persekutuan Pencak Silat Antarabangsa) were initiated by Paatje Kudding's student then-Dr. (now Professor) Philip Davies, initially facilitated by senior members of the Singapore Silat Association (Persekutuan Silat Singapura) and from 2000 championed in official circles by Bapak Aidinal al Rashing, President of the Pencak Silat Federation of the United Kingdom (PSFUK). In 2002 PERSILAT acknowledged that Paatje Faulhaber's kuntao was 'an authentic Indonesian martial art' and granted the art PERSILAT membership as Pencak Silat Kuntao Matjan. In recognition of the preferences of Paatje Richard's generation of practitioner who were not familiar with the 1972 revised Indonesian and Malay orthographic conventions, PERSILAT agreed to the school retaining old spellings of kuntao (instead of 'kuntau') and matjan (instead of 'macan') and also retention of the Chinese ideographs for 'kuntao' in the art's logo as an acknowledgement of the formative role of Liem Tjoei Kang's tiger boxing in Faulhaber's kuntao. At the same time, Paatje Kudding was invited to establish a Canadian Silat Association (Persekutuan Kanada Silat or PERKASA) under PERSILAT authority.

Currently Pencak Silat Kuntao Matjan is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where Paatja Kudding resides, with external relations to PERSILAT and more generally managed through a strategic secretariat based in Uxbridge, England and supervised by Professor Davies. Two active teaching centres operate in Calgary and Uxbridge, although senior students under Paatje Richard reside in Winnipeg and Victoria in Canada and in North Wales in the UK.